Schools Prepping For Major Changes With Tests

SNOW HILL — Though educators have expressed concern over Worcester County’s mandatory adoption of the state’s Common Core Curriculum, Board of Education officials anticipate that the county will retain its top ranking among state public school systems in the years to come.

“Whatever is thrown at us, we deal with it,” said Board member Bob Hulburd. “We handle it in a first-class fashion.”

The Common Core Curriculum will focus on four categories — new curriculum and assessments, longitudinal data, teacher and principal evaluation and support for the lowest achieving schools.

“We are undergoing significant changes with common core coming our way,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. John Gaddis.

Gaddis did note that Worcester would “only need to address the first three assurances” since the county has the highest achieving school system in the state. Still, Gaddis made it clear that the school system will have a lot on its plate for the next few years.

“It’s a good time for us to look back and find what’s important,” he said.

The most noticeable change in the wake of the new curriculum will be new PreK-12th grade assessments. For the last several years, Worcester has consistently finished near the top overall with the current Maryland State Assessment (MSA). In fact, in 2011, the county topped both the math and reading components of the MSA.

Under Common Core, the MSA will be replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Though Worcester will continue with the MSA for the next couple years, it will eventually switch over to the PARCC. But, according to Gaddis, that doesn’t mean that Worcester will be knocked off the top of the list.

“Our students continue to outperform the state,” he told the board. “The expectation is for this to continue.”

Besides a new assessment, PARCC will modify many aspects of how students in Maryland are taught.
“Mathematics is going to see a lot of changes,” said Gaddis.

Another point that the state wants to address is lowering the amount of “teacher talk” in classrooms in favor of encouraging student participation and discussion.

“We’ve got to let students discover,” Gaddis said. “We’ve got to let them do the work.”

There will be new teaching methods and, along with those, new teacher and principal evaluations. One of the bigger questions, according to Gaddis, is whether non-academic teachers like music, art, or physical education should be judged based on how a school performs on its assessment. He told the board that many feel those teachers should be held accountable for assessment scores just like every other teacher at a school.

“They’re in that building, everyone’s responsible,” said Gaddis.
Common Core will also put a higher emphasis on monitoring data.
“We have to track data from Pre-K to 21 now,” said Gaddis.

With the implementation of the new standards, he explained that a statewide longitudinal database that “links all data elements with analytic and instructional tools” will be developed.

The scope of the changes and the trend they indicate caused unease to some on the board.

“I think we need to be afraid of an educational industrial complex,” said Board President Bob Rothermel.

He asked Gaddis how educators were reacting to Common Core.

“They’re apprehensive,” Gaddis said. “We’re going to be successful. We’re going to have some growing pains but we’re going to get there.”